Universities have councils, not corporate boards

Two thirds of university chancellors have private sector “professional backgrounds” or continue to have “substantial non-executive roles with private companies.” And at eight universities most council members are from the business sector, according to a new study by the National Tertiary Education Union.

The emphasis on private sector memberships has occurred as governments move to reduce the overall size of councils and cut staff membership while universities have excluded staff representatives on councils from full participation, the NTEU explains in a report releases yesterday.

The report warns changes to councils are misplaced, that “the reduction in council sizes and the preoccupation with managerial modes of governance may in fact limit capacity around quality of teaching and research.”

“While regulatory forces shaping governance are diversifying, the core functions and purpose of universities remains. This is the creation of educational goods and outcomes (focused around teaching, research, and outreach) for public purposes and goals. Good performance in this respect fundamentally requires governance expertise in the lived experience of leaning, research, community service and a commitment to the unique missions defined by universities as public and civic institutions. These are not only evident in strategic plans and enabling legislation, but in open, transparent and inclusive decision making cultures.”

To ensure university councils have “transparent and inclusive governance cultures in which elected staff and students play a critical role” the union proposes a code of governance, “to assist governing body members to appropriately consider and manage their formal responsibilities as members of university governing bodies.”


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